Don’t let funding delays keep Americans on the ground: Invest in aviation now
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Today, America is on the move.

This evening, like every evening, thousands of Americans will take flight, traveling on the highways in the sky for business and pleasure, transporting the American goods that keep our economy strong, and even defending our homeland as proud members of the military.

As an American who travels on roads and bridges every day, I am reassured to see the administration’s focus on infrastructure investment; however, I am concerned that we have ignored an important focus on investment in our aviation infrastructure. More importantly, that lack of focus on aviation infrastructure represents an invisible and gradual overcrowding of the highways in the sky that, while perhaps not as obvious as potholes, could eventually present crippling damage without accelerated, predictable funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. 

From our airports to our avionics, and from our air traffic control facilities to our communication network, the backbone of American aviation requires continued investment now. That’s why today, the Aerospace Industries Association calls on the administration and Congress to ensure any future infrastructure investment legislation includes robust funding for the entirety of our nation’s air transportation infrastructure, including our airports, national airspace system and our air traffic control system.

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A purely terrestrially focused reinvestment ignores both the long-term necessity of and the deleterious effects that decades of growth and use have had on our nation’s aviation sector. Today, we have an incredibly complex network of systems and a dedicated workforce who operates and maintains those systems every day. Thanks to their efforts, the aviation enterprise has seen exponential growth and remains a driver of the American economy.

 

Yet the demand for aviation, including the growth of passenger and cargo sectors, the integration of new unmanned systems, and an acknowledgement of the utility of air transport requires continued investment in the national airspace system. We remain safe and successful in the near-term thanks to past investment and an incredible group of men and women who work this every day, but we must not lose sight of the long-term need for a sound aviation infrastructure.

The necessity is also in the numbers, all of which show a continued investment today yields success for tomorrow, and beyond.

The civil aviation sector accounts for roughly $1.5 trillion annually to the national economy, constituting 5.4 percent of our entire gross domestic product. The FAA notes civil aviation accounts for 11.8 million jobs. From the economic benefits of tourism, shipping and travel, aviation delivers economic impact to communities small and large across our nation.

The sector also continues to spur innovation, as manufacturers continue to develop planes that are more efficient, environmentally friendly, and provide travelers a better overall experience. That same innovation potential is taking place across our industry and well-beyond traditional aviation with new technologies and uses for the national airspace system presenting significant opportunities for our future. This potential will never be realized without an acceleration of the upgrades already underway to the entire aviation infrastructure.

The good news is that we as a nation have already started investing in the next generation of requirements for our aviation infrastructure. Aptly named, FAA’s NextGen initiative promotes a series of investments into the interoperability of aircraft avionics, airports, air traffic control facilities, navigation aids, both land and space-based communication networks and surveillance systems to ensure a safe, efficient air transportation system for users, the flying and shipping public, and all other beneficiaries of air commerce. But the time to accelerate that effort with steady funding is now.

NextGen and aviation infrastructure investment will create opportunities and benefits ranging from increased flight safety, reduced flight times and delays, improved efficiency and environmental benefits. As we’ve continued to learn in the aviation field, other benefits follow from robust infrastructure investment: more open markets, positive safety trends and an increase of high-skill and high-paying American jobs. The United States has proven time and time again that the sky is no longer the limit for the role aviation can play in a strong American economy.

For the safety of American travelers, for the health of the nation’s economy, for the added protections to our environment, and for countless other reasons, the time to continue a steady, predictable funding path for America’s aviation infrastructure is now.

Aviation is and must remain a critical, well-funded component of our nation’s infrastructure. For America to be great and to remain great, its aviation infrastructure must also be great. 

 

Lt. Gen. David F. Melcher (U.S. Army, retired.) is the president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.